Mount Allison’s Harold Crabtree Aqualab turns 10
A decade ago, Mount Allison University opened the Harold Crabtree Aqualab: Centre for Aquatic Sciences, which is dedicated to the aquatic sciences and to advancing our understandings of marine and aquatic biology and conservation.
“For some of our undergraduate students, Aqualab is their first practical research opportunity and delivers experiences that are fundamental in training future scientists and researchers,” says Dr. Jennifer Tomes, Mount Allison’s Dean of Science. “The students take knowledge learned in the classroom, combine it with their passion for the natural world, and translate it into a hands-on scientific experience with real-world applications.”
The lab was established thanks to the generosity of the Crabtree Foundation as well as funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Province of New Brunswick, and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.
Since 2012, 51 undergraduate students, seven graduate students, and two post-doctoral fellows have conducted research in Aqualab, and research findings have resulted in close to two dozen published scientific papers.
“My primary research project in the Aqualab investigated the physiology of Atlantic salmon captured from the Miramichi River, and it was wonderful to be a part of a research project that could yield information about this vulnerable local species,” says Louise Tunnah (’12, ’16). “Working in the Aqualab was a very active and collaborative environment. It brought students from different labs together and it was always interesting to follow the different types of ongoing research projects. My work in the Aqualab certainly fostered my appreciation for aquatic research, and that appreciation continues to the present day.”
Tunnah earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Biology at Mount Allison. She is currently completing her PhD in Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph.
In addition to students such as Tunnah, the lab has also hosted several guest researchers and even a television crew. In 2019, Mount Allison biology department head Dr. Diana Hamilton and a group of her student researchers were featured on CBC’s The Nature of Things. Parts of the filming were done in the facility.
“Aqualab research has advanced our understandings of the biology of Atlantic salmon, brook trout, and several other species,” says Dr. Tyson MacCormack, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “My own research focuses on the biochemical mechanisms used by fish to tolerate environmental stressors like changing water temperatures, and the research has benefitted immensely from the facility and the work of students.”
Mount Allison Aqualab scientists have also collaborated with national and international partners including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council, and Brazil’s National Institute for Amazonian Research, among others.
“Thanks to the Aqualab, we are all gaining better understandings of the impacts of climate change and pollutants in both fresh and salt water, and how we can better protect aquatic life and fisheries,” says Dr. Andrea Morash, assistant professor, Department of Biology.
The Aqualab provides unique opportunities to researchers on campus to understand how aquatic animals cope with ecologically relevant changes in temperature, salinity, oxygen, and exposure to contaminants. The facility also allows research teams to carefully manipulate water temperatures, salinity, and tidal cycles to essentially bring the field into the lab.
“Working in Aqualab was the first time I was able to design and implement my own experiments,” says Neal Callaghan (’14, ’16). Callaghan earned his bachelors and master’s degrees in Biochemistry at Mount Allison. Last year, he finished his PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto and has since completed his first year of Medicine at Dalhousie University.
“The Aqualab experience of interacting with and troubleshooting hardware, combined with the ability to learn physiology, was a major contributor to my choice of field for my PhD. Since my time at Mount Allison, I have had a major appreciation for multidisciplinary projects and the ability to integrate many different skills in a scientific pursuit.”